Climate change and the corporate arsenal

What weapons are at corporations’ disposal in the war against climate change, and what would victory really mean?


UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “The danger posed by war to all of humanity – and to our planet – is at least matched by that of climate crisis and global warming.” Prince Charles, addressing the European Parliament, “Fighting climate change is comparable to war, and a “courageous and revolutionary” approach is needed to avoid catastrophe. The private sector has a crucial role to play.”

Statements such as these, combined with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change, have led to a concerted shift in consumer, business and government opinion and action. Yet, investment in climate change initiatives and the environment pale in comparison to the numbers invested around the world in the military. Could such a simple change as calling it the “War on Climate Change” affect the decisions of government, corporations and individuals?

This article looks at the individual weapons in the corporate ‘arsenal’ in the war on climate change and how they can support and ensure corporations manage and reduce the risk associated with climate change. Further, it looks at the benefits, both financially and to the health and welfare of your brand, of a comprehensive carbon management strategy.

The first and most crucial step for corporations to make is commitment. The ethics and vision of a company should be the guiding light that helps determine how crucial the climate change issue is to the brand, both now and in the future. In addition to asking, “can we enhance our stock market value through climate change initiatives?” brands need to answer the question, “does our climate change policy and actions fit with our values and mission?” They need to make a public statement of their intentions, including setting out measurable steps to calculate, manage and reduce their carbon footprint, which is backed up by senior management, as a group, ‘walking the talk.’

‘Walking the talk’ includes clear leadership. Experience has shown when major corporations make a stand on key issues, the world listens.  Brands who are prepared to take on this initial fight can guarantee long-term brand image benefits, positioning themselves as an industry leader. Sector leaders who have embraced climate change early and consistently are seen by the public as the leaders and the ‘greenest.’ In a world where scepticism of business’ intentions and claims is rampant, leadership has to about actions and consistency, not press releases and tag lines. Leadership is the weapon in the corporate arsenal setting “direction”.

‘Direction’ may be influenced by stakeholders. Stakeholders, including consumers, government, employees and others are crucial to a brand’s reputation. A company needs to be able to answer the following questions: Is the brand listening to and acting on stakeholder concerns? Are the climate change issues that keep them awake at night the ones that companies are addressing? What role do employees see for themselves in the war against climate change?

Effective communication channels are critical in any military campaign and this war is no different.  Without companies engaging with their stakeholders, how will the knowledge and resources be deployed and used to best effect?

Dedicated resources   
A clear sign that business is serious about climate change is the level of internal resources dedicated to environmental issues. Lady Young, the Head of the UK Environmental Agency, recently stated, “This is World War Three. We need the sorts of concerted, fast, integrated and above all huge efforts that went into many actions in times of war.”

Again, there are several questions that a company needs to answer to ensure that they are addressing the issue. Is business factoring in climate change into each and every major decision? Is the most senior climate change person at the board level? Where is climate change on the risk register and in product design? This is not about this year’s budget, but rather how much is being invested over the next 10 to 20 years. Dedicated resources are about translating the commitment and leadership into sustainable planning and actions.

Setting clear, visible targets that relate directly to the brand’s ethics and vision are the key to transparency. Being transparent and consistent on internal processes, including the ones that generate the most emissions, as well as publicly setting improvement goals helps stakeholders better understand the issues. It also enables them to make more informed judgments about a brand, turning commitment and leadership into a tangible benefit for the brand. Transparency is also the most effective way of internally ensuring implementation of a brand’s vision, applying the business model of “what gets measured gets managed.”

In independent research, 70 percent of consumers want independent, third-party verification of corporate “green claims.”¹ The most difficult tools to put into use for corporations are commitment and engagement. Those two require the most change within an organisation and are, therefore, the most likely to be met with resistance. Verification, on the other hand, is the part of the process that validates all of the hard work and struggles. Verification is the final step that provides business with the platform to go out and shout about their accomplishments. With nothing less than a brand’s credibility on the line, who can afford not to have climate change data and claims verified?

Trust is the reason that corporations start this long journey. Trust from employees, customers as well as trust in what a brand stands for. It seemed ever so elusive in the early stages. Now, with all of the early struggles a distant memory and the confidence that independent verification brings, the full competitive advantages and benefits of the initial commitment are clear. Trust is the output of all of the other weapons in the corporate arsenal. Take all of them into account and trust is a natural result. Leave or discount any of the tools and trust can be lost forever.

What is victory in the war on climate change?
Let’s go back to our original comparison of climate change to war. If we put our entire arsenal to use, what would victory look like? Transparent efforts will lead to increased brand awareness and profits. From there, concerted stakeholder engagement leads to trust, which can enhance a company’s reputation as an innovative industry leader. One needs look no further than Toyota and their image as the greenest car maker. How much money will their rivals have to spend on research and marketing to level the playing field in the eyes of consumers?

How bad can defeat really be?
Turn the question around and the issue becomes more urgent. Companies failing to address climate change could face a public backlash from stakeholders, who see the brand as not doing their part, even worse, as proactively contributing to the destruction of our planet. Back in 2001, Dr. Andrew Dlugolecki, director of general insurance development at CGNU, the United Kingdom’s largest insurance group, stated “the rate of damage caused by changing weather will exceed the world’s wealth. Damage to property due to global warming could bankrupt the world by 2065.” Need further proof of that damage? CNN reporter, Dr Sanjay Gupta, reported on July 31, 2007 that the Carteret islanders in the South Pacific will be the first island community in the world to undergo an organized relocation, in response to their island sinking. The people of the Carteret are being called the world’s first environmental refugees.

Words and actions
Changing the words we use to describe the current climate change danger is not going to solve the problem. Business leading the way and applying all of the tools described here in a dedicated and transparent manner could just set the example that individuals and governments need to help them make the hard choices that will inevitably be necessary to sustain our planet. Could the stakes possibly be any higher?